It might feel daunting but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Here’s how to juggle self-employment and parenthood.
By Katie Byrne
Any parent will agree: freelancing with small children can be terrific, and it can also be tough. Whether you’ve recently welcomed your first child or have kids who are school-age, finding the balance between a successful freelance career and a fulfilling family life can be tricky.
After all, there’s a huge range of factors that need careful juggling, from the needs of your child (and clients!) to your ability to manage to-do lists and properly switch off.
If you’re a new parent, especially, there’s a huge mental shift involved. You might have once lived to work and now, whisper it, work to live. (And guess what? That’s okay!) You might have been used to doing what you wanted, when you wanted, but are now having to learn the art of planning in order to accommodate the demands of your newborn, who doesn’t care whether you’re in the middle of a client call - she wants feeding, now.
In short, it can be a minefield and is a massive adjustment both mentally and physically. Happily enough, our guide is here to hopefully make things feel that bit simpler. With a practical outlook and an efficient approach, it really can be easier… Promise!
From setting time boundaries to knowing what support you’re entitled to, read on for our guide to navigating the world of self-employment, with your little one by your side.
The benefits of being self-employed with small children
There are many positives to being self-employed when you have young children, with the freedom that being your own boss can bring arguably being the main perk. Want to spontaneously take your baby to the park, or watch your older child take part in a school play? There’s no need to worry about negotiating time off with your manager. As your own boss, you have the freedom to create your own schedule, flexing and bending your time frame to fit in what you need to.
Another benefit that many parents in full-time employment can sadly regret missing out on is being there for your child whenever they need you. From picking them up from school to never missing a bedtime story, freelance parents have accessibility that many parents in traditional 9-5 roles or shift work can only dream of.
What downsides are there to freelancing with a young family?
The main downside is arguably time, or your lack thereof. If you have a baby or toddler at home with you, for example, you might constantly feel as if you don’t have enough hours in the day to juggle your parental responsibilities with everything you need to do work-wise. This constant ‘juggling’ can, in turn, result in the infamous parental guilt that many mums and dads find themselves haunted by.
Financial pressures will also feel amplified when your child depends on you. From chasing up overdue payments to scrambling to find new work, you might feel the burden of trying to make money more than ever before. Try to not feel too frantic and instead:
- Calculate out how much you need to make each month, and work with that figure in mind.
- Consider revising your fees if you haven’t in a while - do research into how much competitors are charging and see how you compare.
- If you haven’t already, do a recce of your expenses and cancel any costly services that you don’t use.
Another downside of freelancing as a parent is that you might find it harder to switch off properly. If you’re working around your baby’s nap routine, for example, you could find yourself doing a lot of out-of-hours work, which can make it difficult to relax. As such, you could find yourself with an ‘always on’ mindset, which can be exhausting and contribute to burnout.
And finally - freelancing as a parent can make getting away from home harder. Whether you want to travel into town for a big industry event or are meant to be meeting an important client for lunch, it can be tricky to swing when you’ve got a toddler in tow. However, do remember that WFH has opened everyone’s eyes to a more flexible approach to working (in some respects, at least), meaning that many people are a lot more accommodating and understanding than they perhaps were pre-pandemic.
Practical tips to manage freelancing with small children
Freelancing as a parent can feel like a daunting prospect. However, if you hack the way you work, it doesn’t need to be difficult.
#1 Be upfront with clients.
You certainly don’t need to tell your clients you have children (although they might have their suspicions if they hear a mewling four-month-old in the background of your calls…). However, if you feel your work is being impacted - a project is taking longer to deliver, for example, or you need to rearrange a meeting - then being upfront can be the best policy. Communication, as ever, is key.
“The decision to disclose this information to your clients is entirely up to you,” says Amanda Augustine, careers expert at TopCV (and mum to a five-year-old boy). “I’ve known some freelancers — in particular, mothers — who only let clients know that they have children if the client is also a parent and would appreciate all that comes with that household title. Some choose not share this personal information with their clients at all, regardless of whether or not the client is also a parent, as they don’t want this detail to influence the client’s opinion of their work or potentially view it as a concern.”
The pandemic has really opened up the potential for a more flexible approach to working. “Lockdown brought everyone’s work into their homes and, as a result, made it more acceptable to acknowledge your personal lives - even in a client-consultant relationship,” notes Augustine.
Whether it’s a brand launch party or dinner with a long-time client, be upfront when you receive an invitation. Don’t just say ‘no’ if it’s going to prove tricky for you to be there. Rather, explain your circumstances - they might say you could bring your child with you, for example, or offer a virtual alternative.
#2 Communicate your availability clearly.
On the subject of being upfront with clients, extend the honesty to your availability, too. Now’s not the time to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity that comes your way, as tempting as it might be from a fiscal point of view.
“Set proper expectations with your clients by agreeing upon the amount of hours you will dedicate to their business on a weekly or monthly basis,” recommends Augustine. “Review your contract - if applicable - with each client to be certain that these expectations are spelled out.”
The same thought process can be rolled out at home, too, ensuring that you and your partner or family members have a precise idea of when you’re working.
#3 Create strict time boundaries.
If you work from home, it can be tempting to have an ‘as and when’ approach to your work. For example, you might see nothing wrong with sending emails at 11pm while you do a night feed, or drafting a client proposal on a Saturday afternoon.
“When your home has morphed into a workplace and daycare centre, and your smart device is within an arm’s length at any given time, it’s inevitable that the lines between the start and end to your working day will become blurry,” says Augustine. “The sooner you establish a structure to your work day, the easier it will be to adhere to these guidelines. Depending on the needs of your family, you may need to adjust your working hours to reflect something that’s realistic.”
Augustine advises blocking your diary to ensure timeframes are adhered to. “Depending on what system you use, you may be able to set your work hours so that clients will be notified if they try to book you for a time outside of your standard work day,” she adds. “Better yet, consider using a tool such as Calendly that allows you to offer a link clients can use to book appointments without having full visibility into your schedule.”
Of course, the flexibility of being your own boss means you can work as and when best suits you - but that’s not to say that every spare moment of your time should be spent trying to cram in more work. Much like an office worker would traditionally stick to a 9am-5pm timeframe, so should you try to create a loose structure of your working time. Give yourself whole days off and enjoy work-free evenings.
There are a few simple ways you can max your time when freelancing with small children:
- Start your day earlier, with a view to ending it earlier. For example, you could set your morning alarm so you can squeeze in an hour or two of work before your child wakes up.
- Work when they nap. Unless you’re desperate for sleep, in which case, nap when they nap! But otherwise, use the windows of time throughout the day when a baby is snoozing to get work ticked off. Make sure you’ve always got a to-do list on the go, which will allow you hit the ground running rather than waste precious time working out what needs doing next.
- Use automation apps. From social media scheduling to creating email sequences for budding clients who sign up to your newsletter, there are all sorts of ways you can automate certain elements of your business and comms, meaning you don’t need to spend time on instant reactions.
#4 Be realistic with workloads.
There’s nothing quite like freelancing with small children in tow to make you realise how precious your time is. It’s a great opportunity to discover what work you do - and don’t - value, as well as what projects you can and can’t fit in with your other commitments.
If you’re feeling frazzled and have a chronic case of saying ‘yes’ to every opportunity that’s thrown your way (and let’s face it - saying ‘no’ can be hard when you’re a freelancer, right?), now’s the perfect time to do an audit of your workload and decide:
- Which regular work/projects take up the most time in your typical week
- How do these particular pieces of work make you feel: are they satisfying? Are they stressful? Do you love doing them or find it stressful?
- Which of these are particularly financially rewarding, or you love doing regardless
- Which are no longer worth your time and mental energy
Overloading yourself with work can lead to the likes of burnout or depression - so ask yourself whether it’s worth it the next time you find yourself saying ‘yes’ to another project with a crazy deadline.
#5 Keep on top of what you’re doing.
Whilst the humble to-do list is hardly a groundbreaking concept, it works. You could try:
- Good old pen and paper, which affords you the satisfaction of physically ticking tasks off as you achieve them
- A spreadsheet with a colour-code system to allow you to see what stage you’re at with various projects
- A time management app like Trello, which effectively combines the above but in one easy-view place
Also be sure to have a clear diary system - whether using pen and paper or a digitized system - so as to ensure everything from parents’ evenings at your child’s school to client meetings are never accidentally forgotten about.
Dealing with the emotions of self-employment and parenting
There will be times when it’s tough - when your child wants to play but you also desperately need to send an email to a client. Guilt can very easily creep into your typical working day but it’s important to keep things in perspective and remember that you’re certainly not the first self-employed parent to feel this way, and you certainly won’t be the last.
It’s also far from the only emotion you’ll find yourself staring in the face as a freelance or self-employed parent. Others can include:
- Worries about finances: this will hardly be a new concern if you’ve freelanced for a while, but it can feel even more daunting when you have a child who is dependent upon you.
- Comparison: you might find yourself looking at the work created by other freelancers in your industry and feel envious - be it of their talent, of their client or the fact that you imagine they have a lot more free time than you do. Equally, you might compare your parenting style to that of others and worry that you’re not taking your child to the park enough, for example.
- Overwhelm: if you have a lot of work to do and no idea where to begin, it can feel overwhelming. Factor-in caring for your child at the same time and it can feel almost impossible. However, our Practical Tips for Freelancing with Small Children section above might hopefully help!
If you’ve just welcomed a new baby and are returning to work after maternity leave, it’s going to be an emotional time regardless of how hard you stick to a to-do list or manage client expectations.
To tackle that ‘running on empty’ feeling that so many of us experience, make sure you:
- Read our guide to improving your sleep as a new parent
- Drink at least 2l of water every day and aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Talk to someone you trust if the emotional overload is beginning to feel too much
- Write it down: empty your thoughts onto a piece of paper so you’re not carrying everything mentally
Getting support from a partner or family to become self-employed
Have a supportive partner or family who you can share childcare with? You’re in a good position. If you’re new to parenting alongside your freelance business, get a plan in place (if you can) while you’re still pregnant, to allow you to hit the ground running when you’re ready to return to work.
If you have older children and are becoming a freelancer, assess which areas of your working week you could require help with - be it someone taking on the school-run twice a week, or keeping little ones entertained on Saturdays.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child - and they’re not wrong,” says Augustine. “Find your ‘village’, whether that’s family members, neighbours or paid help. You could also look for other freelancers in your area with a view to taking turns at carpooling children to nursery or other activities.”
Outside of creating a support network, it’s handy to know that other forms of support are available, too.
“Self-employed professionals are eligible for Tax-Free Childcare in most parts of the UK,” explains Augustine. “In fact, the eligibility criteria are less strict for the newly self-employed versus corporate employees: you don’t need to meet the same weekly earnings limit if you recently started your business.”
If you want an idea of how much childcare support you could receive, take a look at the government’s childcare calculator. Additionally, if you’re new parents and your partner is in full-time employment, be sure to explore whether Shared Parental Leave could be an option, too.
Coworking spaces with nurseries, or hiring help
The downside of working from home is that it can be hard to get the work-life balance quite right. WFH left many Brits developing a serious case of cabin fever during lockdown so, now that we’ve got the freedom to do so again, you might want to consider finding a co-working space that can offer childcare.
The benefits of this are manyfold, and include:
- Leaving your home. It might sound obvious but stepping outside and going somewhere else can make a real difference to your productivity and mental wellbeing.
- Meeting other like-minded people. Whether they’re also freelancers with children or work in the same field as you do, it’s a great way to network.
- Integrated childcare. Knowing your child is being looked after by professionals will obviously make it a lot easier for you to feel confident that you can focus on work.
Admittedly, co-working spaces - let alone those with childcare attached - are few and far between at the moment, with the majority based in London. However, as the hybrid-working trend continues to rise in popularity among the employed, chances are that we’ll see more and more co-working spaces open up, which can only be a good thing.
If a co-working space isn’t financially feasible, consider creating a distinct workspace at home. There are numerous benefits to doing this - if you have the room - not least because you can close the door behind you once you’ve finished for the day.
“Ideally, it will be in a room where you can close the door, to remind your loved ones that you’re on the clock,” says Augustine. “You’ll find it easier staying on task and ending your workday on time when you commit to working from only one place in your home.”
If you can afford it, hiring a nanny could be a consideration. Whether you have a small baby or a school-aged child, do your research and ask friends and family for recommendations to find the perfect help.
Do children benefit from having self-employed parents?
As difficult and impossible as being self-employed whilst trying to care for your children might feel at times - and as much as you might feel you’re stretching yourself too thin and juggling far too much - be firmly reassured that the answer to this question is a resounding ‘yes’.
Fundamentally, there are a stack of benefits that being a self-employed parent can bring to your children, including and not limited to:
- Being there for them, whenever they need you to be
- Having the flexibility to bend your hours around your child
- Not having to ask a ‘boss’ for permission to take time off when your child needs you
- Being able to enjoy as much involvement as you want, from school drop-offs and pick-ups to reading bedtime stories
- Setting them a great example for their own careers down the line
“I believe there are many benefits to having self-employed parents,” says Jo Bevilacqua, who runs three businesses, including a flooring company, a salon with a creche and a mentoring business. “A child gets to see the ups and downs of business and they learn to be flexible problem-solvers. They don’t believe that there is only one job for one person. And it also gives a child a chance to see that they can follow their dreams.”
Lianne Robinson, founder of Unfolded Content, also agrees.
“My husband and I are both self-employed, so I can definitely say it’s a ‘yes’ from us,” she says. “Our children get to see so much more of us than they would if we had a ‘normal’ job - we can dictate our own hours so that we’re always there when there is a school show or sports event, for example, without the anxiety of getting an ‘okay’ from a boss.”
“Of course, it does come with its downsides, too. Sometimes the children are at home while I’m sitting at my desk working, and unstructured hours often mean we work late into the evenings. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Support and Resources for freelancers with small children
- The step-by-step guide to tax-free childcare
- IPSE guide to Shared Parental Leave
- Podcast: how to juggle being a freelance parent
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